Can I Tie-Dye a Cotton/Poly Blend Shirt?

Alexa Vega wears tie-dye to a 2011 West Hollywood appearance.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

First popularized by hippies in the 1960s, tie-dyeing creates colorful, one-of-a-kind patterns on fabric and shirts. The technique involves tying the fabric into sections and dipping the sections in dye. You can go with a simpler look of one or two dye colors or dip each tied segment into several colors. You typically do tie-dying on shirts of 100n percent cotton, but you can also work with some types of cotton/poly blend shirts.

Before You Dye

Some types of shirts do not combine well will certain dyes. Consider commercial fabric dyes for your cotton and poly blend tie-dye projects. You can dye a blend when it contains at least 60 percent cotton or some other natural fiber that takes dye well. You cannot use dye you purchase over the counter for fabrics containing more than 40 percent polyester, spandex or acrylic. In addition, if your fabric was treated with water-resistant materials, it will also resist the dye.

Brilliant Color on Blends

Clean fabric before tie-dying it. Remove all stains so you achieve even, consistent color. Some dye manufacturers offer products to remove stains to prepare fabric for dyeing. For projects with multiple colors, use the lightest color first and gradually move toward your darker or more saturated hues. Dissolve the dye in water at 140 degrees Fahrenheit when dyeing with dark colors. You will not get the same color saturation on cotton/poly blends that you will on 100 percent cotton fabrics. The dye will set but will not look as intense.

High Polyester Content

Use disperse dye, a type of commercial dye, to achieve effective color on fabric with a high polyester content. These dyes are more challenging to use than commercial dyes, but they create higher contrast that sets in polyester fabric. Adhere to manufacturer instructions to maintain your safety during dyeing. Tie the fabric into sections and drop it into a hot immersion bath in an enamel or stainless steel container. Measure your dye and any other substances with materials that can handle industrial-grade dyes such as Pyrex or stainless steel.

Direct Application Technique

Create a faux tie-dye look by applying disperse dye directly to cotton/poly blend shirts. Mix the disperse dye with citric acid and apply it to the fabric using a paint brush. The citric acid acts as a dye carrier and thickening agent. Steam or pressure steam your shirt for 30 to 60 minutes after decorating it to cure the dye so it lasts through washings. Work in a well-ventilated space while doing this project.

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